After a wacky home draw against Colorado, the Portland Timbers (7-3D-8, 24 pts) will host Orlando City SC (7-4D-9, 25 pts) on Thursday (??) night at Providence Park. The Timbers will be hoping they can replicate the Thorns’ dramatic win against the Orlando Pride from last Sunday.
The Timbers are expected to roll out a weaker starting lineup for a number of reasons: First, the first MLS matchup against Seattle is looming on Sunday. While the Timbers and Sounders met in the U.S. Open Cup in June, this installment will be the first time both managers put out their best squads—and while they may meet in an American football stadium, it’s certainly a step up from a minor league baseball venue.
Therefore, there’s a very slim chance head coach Giovanni Savarese will risk starting the likes of Diego Chará, Sebastián Blanco, or Diego Valeri against Orlando. Savarese has made it clear that he is not afraid to rest starters during busy weeks, especially against Eastern Conference opponents. This constant squad rotation is a trend Timbers fans will come to expect from Savarese (if they haven’t already). The following is a list of Portland’s remaining matches until Decision Day, along with how many full days separate each match:
|Date/Opponent||Days of rest before each match|
|July 18th vs Orlando||4|
|July 21st @ Seattle||2|
|July 27th vs LA Galaxy||5|
|August 4th @ Minnesota||7|
|August 7th @ Minnesota*||2|
|August 10th vs Vancouver||2|
|August 14th vs Chicago||3|
|August 18th vs Atlanta||3|
|August 23rd vs Seattle||4|
|August 27th or 28th**||3 or 4|
|August 31st vs Salt Lake||2, 3, or 7|
|September 7th vs Kansas City||6|
|September 15th vs DC||7|
|September 18th vs NYRB||2|
|September 22nd vs Minnesota||3|
|September 25th vs New England||2|
|September 29th @ KC||3|
|October 6th vs San Jose***||6|
- * U.S. Open Cup Semifinal
- ** U.S. Open Cup Final (if necessary)
- *** MLS Decision Day
While Portland’s final three months or so are loaded with home matches, they will rarely have more than a few days’ rest, especially if they beat Minnesota to make the U.S. Open Cup Final (which the Timbers will not be hosting, regardless of their opponent).
Now to the starting lineups. Predicting Gio’s starting XI is always a daunting task, but this is who I think will start based on how the Timbers lined up in the last few matches:
GK: Steve Clark—Clark stood on his head against Colorado, and will likely be called upon again. He is the clear starter over Jeff Attinella, who is nursing a bit of a right shoulder injury.
LB: Jorge Villafaña—This might be the toughest position to predict. Although he has been absent from lineups since the match against FC Dallas a couple weeks ago with a minor left thigh injury, Villafaña may be called upon because of Marco Farfán going down with a more serious knee injury last match.
CB: Bill Tuiloma and Claude Dielna—Tuiloma logged one half of play for T2 against Sacramento last Saturday, meaning he will probably continue to get reacquainted with the squad. Dielna has been one of the most improved players for the Timbers this season, and Larrys Mabiala will likely sit out before the Seattle match. Cascante is suspended from his straight red card as well, so he won’t be an option either.
RB: Zarek Valentin—It’s more than likely that Moreira will be rested before the Seattle match. Unless Gio brings someone up from T2 to start at outside back, it will probably be Valentin and Villafaña holding down the defensive wings. Also note: Modou Jadama, who was brought up from T2 to start at right back in Montréal, will be questionable with a right lower leg injury.
DM: Renzo Zambrano and Andrés Flores–Chará and Zambrano both went the full 90 against Colorado, the former doing the same at LAFC midweek as well. Flores is the likely replacement, although it will largely depend upon Cristhian Paredes’ status—don’t be surprised to see him out there Thursday night, but he still seems to be the preferred partner to Chará in that holding midfield area.
LM: Marvin Loría—Although appearing almost exclusively as a right winger for the first team, Loría is perfectly capable on the left. Unless Gio prefers Loría over Jeremy Ebobisse against Seattle, Loría will likely start over Blanco, if not replace him early in the second half.
AM: Tomás Conechny—Gio loves the idea of getting the Argentine youngster more meaningful minutes, and this match against Orlando is the perfect opportunity to do so. Blanco and Valeri split time against LAFC and Blanco played the whole match against the Rapids, with Valeri playing 78 minutes. Also, if the Timbers aren’t starting an Argentine in central attacking midfield, are they really even the Timbers?
RM: Andy Polo—Polo has yet to return to the pitch for Portland after playing in five out of Peru’s six Copa America matches. Asprilla looked—shall we say, inadequate—last Saturday and he or Loría are the only other players I could see starting here for this match.
FW: Brian Fernández—Fernández was subbed on for Asprilla two-thirds of the way into the Colorado match, but only managed 12 touches and two blocked shots, as Portland were pinned in their own half with 10 men after the Cascante red card. I do not expect Fernández to play the full match, either as a starter or a substitute, and Ebobisse starting up top certainly makes sense as well considering the circumstances.
In review, my best crack at a Timbers starting lineup looks this:
In other news, known deviant Dom Dwyer will not be on the pitch at Providence Park Thursday after receiving a straight red card for this ill-advised elbow in the 93rd minute against Columbus. This is both great and mediocre news for the Timbers Army; Dwyer is a taunting character to say the least, but it’s always fun to see a Timbers win wipe a smile off his face.
Overall, Thursday’s match will be an interesting one. Gio will almost certainly put out a B or C-level lineup, and Orlando also have an important Sunday match coming up against the Red Bulls. Gio’s substitutions will be the X-factor; we’ll see if he can make the adjustments to take all three points in the second half.